Psalm Singing

tissot-david-singing427x620.jpgThe debate over Psalm singing is particularly discussed in Reformed circles. The issue involves adherence to the “regulative principle,” which affirms that only that which is in the Scriptures is to be practiced in the church. Some have come to accept the practice of exclusive Psalm singing (exclusive Psalmnody). They argue the Bible does not offer other forms of singing in the Scriptures, ergo, God has left the church with 150 Psalms. While Psalm singing is desirable in Sabbath worship or private worship, it is necessary to realize that the texts used to defend Psalm singing are commonly misinterpreted. There are primarily two texts used. Edmund Clowney in his respected volume on the church writes:

Those who insist that the church should sing Biblical Psalms exclusively need to consider more carefully the apostle’s words in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:18-20. It is the wisdom that is the enduement of the Spirit-filled church, taught by the Word of Christ, that enables to admonish and teach one another; they do so in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Paul’s expression shows that he is thinking of the wisdom that composes psalms, and therefore not of the psalms of David. Nor do his words refer to inspired compositions exclusively. The context of his use of spiritual wisdom in Colossians 1:19, his prayers for wisdom, and his charge to walk in wisdom show that he thinks of the wisdom of the Spirit as the daily need of every Christian, not a gift of revelation to bring the Word of Christ (136).

Clowney finds the theme of this passage “wisdom,” not a prescribed form of worship. Granted, Psalm singing is edifying and needful; the church today lacks a catechized youth because the Scriptures are not sung nor are they brought to memorization. Surely the singing of God’s Word facilitates immensely this process. Nevertheless, there is a fundamental concern that must be addressed. Exclusive Psalm-singers argue that only Scriptures can carry the intensity and loveliness of worship. Since it is the only writing in which there can be found no error and since it claims self-authentication, ergo, it is the only prescribed form of worship. Any singing that is non-scriptural runs the serious risk of raising voices to a fallible and erroneous composition. This logic urges worshipers to consider their sinful natures and their conspicuous tendency to err. This is a critique worth considering and must come to the attention of the composer and the worshiper as he lifts his voice to glorify his Maker.

Greg Bahnsen answers the argument raised by exclusive Psalm-singers (these arguments must not be thrown out as infantile, but should be considered and learned from – for a profitable discussion of exclusive Psalm-singing see Bahnsen’s discussion) by noting that:

…to prohibit congregational singing of anything but the Old Testament psalms is an unwarranted addition to the word of God (cf. Deut.4:2) and – ironically – a violation of the regulative principle of worship thereby. The crucial question is this: Where in Scripture does God restrict His people to singing only the songs in the book of Psalms? No such restriction can be demonstrated. Those who try to infer it end up relying on fallacious arguments. Those who insist that we must positively demonstrate that anything we sing has the explicit warrant of Scripture have misunderstood and misapplied the “regulative principle” – on a par with somebody who would hold that the very words of our prayers and sermons must have the explicit warrant of Scripture.

Bahnsen’ s main argument rests on the fact that if we are to follow the logic of Psalm-singers who claim to be adherents of the “Regulative Principle,” we must further apply this to all of worship. This means we must carefully commit all our prayers to reflect word-for-word or thought-for-thought the prayers found throughout Scriptures.

In conclusion, though exclusive Psalm singing is wrong, Psalm singers exemplify, if perhaps a bit extreme, the sincere urge to commit our minds and our voices to the worship of our God in words that lift, adore, praise, magnify, and reflect the grandeur of our Great God. May all of us be ever mindful of the duty of worshipping God in beauty and authentic spirit-led adoration.

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Liturgy, Psalms, Reformed Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Psalm Singing

  1. nic paton says:

    This is very interesting. The “Regulative Principle” gives a name to something which I have found increasingly onerous (in charasmatic circles at least that is) – the assumption that everything that is thought or said needs to directly refer to scripture.

    I believe that the Creator of the Cosmos delights in sharing the ongoing act of creation with humankind. To put an arbitury line over the psalms, or over the cannon for that matter, does not make sense to me.

    Most worryingly, it reflects a fear of deviation from orthodoxy and a fear of the calling to be a co-creator with G-d. And what is of fear is not of faith.

    I can’t claim that its blasphemous, since that is a word that belong to orthodoxy, but I am certain that our Divine Parent prefers us to play without bounds (apart from Love), with curiosity and zeal, with the potential of discovery, than to be little bureucrats or lawyers defining right and wrong, in and out, correct and incorrect.

  2. Uri says:

    Nic, thanks for your comments. Out of curiosity, why do you not refer to GOD? Are you a Trinitarian Christian? Tell me a little about yourself on this comment section or via e-mail.

  3. Nic Paton says:

    If you refer to the use of G-d, its just a reminder (as in the Hebraic Tetragrammaton YHWH) of our incomplete knowledge of God. Its nothing more than that, not a doctrine, nor a superstition.

    I do feel that we see through a glass darkly and am very careful not to contribute to the death of meaning via overuse, aka cliche.

    I’m not sure what a Trinitarian Christian means?

  4. Uri says:

    I see. A Trinitarian Christian is to be differentiated from other cults who call themselves “Chistians” but are not orthodox Christians. In other words, you may call them Nicene Creed Christians.

  5. Pingback: From Archives: Psalm Singing « Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

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